Jump to: navigation, search





The most telling statement Anthony Perkins made last week when announcing he had contracted AIDS was his comparison of the film and medical communities. "I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life," Perkins said in a prepared release.

Perkins, who died Saturday at age 60 from complications associated with the AIDS virus, experienced, like many actors, the disappointment of being typecast. He essayed a number of memorable roles including a Civil War-era Quaker itching to fight rebels in "Friendly Persuasion" (1956), for which he received his only Oscar nomination. He also did fine work as a green sheriff in the Wild West in "Tin Star" (1957), as the man arrested for charges that are never explained to him in Orson Welles' eerie adaptation of "The Trial" (1962) and as mentally tormented baseball star Jim Piersall in "Fear Strikes Out" (1956).

But the character that changed everything for Perkins was, of course, Norman Bates, the anti-hero of the groundbreaking 1960 thriller "Psycho." Though the film's celebrated director, Alfred Hitchcock, once dismissed actors as "sheep," Perkins' deft work helped make the film the chilling success that it was, creating a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of evil and sexual repression. Ironically, in his most notorious scene — when Norman, dressed as his deranged mother, slices up Janet Leigh in a shower — Perkins remained in the shadows, as Leigh's terrified face and violated flesh took center stage. In fact, Perkins wasn't even around when it was shot; he was rehearsing for a play in New York and a stunt woman stood in for him.

Though the film was a perfect entity unto itself, it was just too juicy a property to let lie fallow, and perhaps Perkins — who was paid a mere $40,000 to play Norman Bates — was ready to cash in on the character who had pigeonholed his career. And so, 23 years later, "Psycho II" was released, a serviceable if hopelessly outclassed sequel to a film many considered too sacred to taint with such afterthoughts.

In 1986, Perkins starred in and directed "Psycho III," and it seemed that he was determined to lay Norman Bates to rest once and for all — the film gleefully and twistedly made fun of the monster he and Hitchcock had created. Before Brian De Palma's "Raising Cain," there was "Psycho III," which had to resort to selling the movie's camp elements over its suspense, and the series' popularity lapsed to the point that its fourth installment appeared as a cable-TV movie.

After "Psycho," of course, Perkins mainly played demented characters, sometimes wryly parodying his reputation. His final performance, in an NBC TV movie, "In the Deep Woods," will be broadcast next month.